The ITAE: A Teachable Fact

November 3, 2014

The thousand and one ways to teach and study art have been much discussed. In the field of arts pedagogy, this topic has been experienced and explained as a routine problem. For many, art is not a learnable truth. There is sufficient evidence to distrust, as Luis Camnitzer does, what is taught in art schools. Suppression continually surrounds the models and doctrines underlying artistic teaching systems. Within higher education, this dysfunction seems to be much more chronic, more predictable.

In Guayaquil, Ecuador, a group of artists, including myself, have had a different experience in art and education in the last decade. Led by Xavier Patiño, ex-member of La Artefactoría[1], we proposed to start an art school in a place where there was none before. To launch such an enterprise, in a city of nearly 3 million people, proved to be a wonderful opportunity. We created the Instituto Superior Tecnológico de Artes del Ecuador (ITAE) and, from its founding propositions, the institution was positioned to train strong and effective artists who would, through their work and research, forcefully dismantle the archetypes seated in the world of art on top the atrophied language and expression that generate the curricular structures of art departments.

The educational processes of the ITAE has influenced not only the artistic community, but has also influentially opened new paths for the visual arts in the city at large. The generation of artists that have emerged from the ITAE constitutes a significant element of the national culture. The institution has established itself as a space for rupture, a catalyst for reflective processes concerning art and culture, as well as a center for artistic production and research. The Institute has also become a gathering space for rich local traditions along with the most progressive and prolific innovations of contemporary culture.   

The dialog that ITAE sparks between tradition and the contemporary is manifested in the curricular structure of its degree programs (Visual Arts, Theater, and Music and Sound Production) and in the manner in which the student, through critical understanding, combines the disciplines with traditional practices that give body to art. Although [Joseph] Kosuth rightly conceives of art as an activity unrelated to mixing colors or the manipulation of materials or sculptural elements, the curricular mesh of ITAE adds a special emphasis to that knowledge. The apparent conventionality of the Institute’s educational design is strengthened and converted to the extent that the students undermine and destroy the fundamentals that those disciplines hide.

The danger of a curricular design like that of ITAE resides in the essentialist judgments of art that advocates for purism; vacuous rivalry; and doing things well: all of which are stationed around disciplinary knowledge. Just as today the values of classical and modern academies seem to have been mimicked, the teaching of art has integrated the same concoction of formalist, classical, and expressive aesthetics. What is important—and therein lies the efficacy of the pedagogical methodology of ITAE—is the ability of students to turn the various aesthetic genealogies into use value, and to bend them for purposes of their artistic research. Therefore, to understand art as a cultural construct is essential, as well as to possess a theoretical and critical platform that allows the students to reliably handle—in both the techniques as well as in the ideologies that they shape—the various learned languages.

While the pedagogical methodology of ITAE relates to a mindset contributed by artists like [Joseph] Beuys of the detachment from any veneration of pure form and modern individual expression, the caution that its curricular design assumes regarding the positions of the latest contemporary schools should be considered a significant element.

With the naturalization of conceptual practices in the art world and the accelerated loss of boundaries among artistic disciplines that accompany contemporary art, certain pedagogical criteria have been championed by the absolute dismantling of disciplinary knowledge. The separation of the occurrence of the work from its physical part and the understanding of art as an action to produce meaning has become more a question of aesthetics. The poetics that are born from the establishment and the full integration of an art system of conceptual aesthetics and the most radical practices of contemporary art have also been codified today as Academic Language that gravitates towards institutions of artistic education.

Against this panorama, the ITAE constantly encourages students to cultivate their artistic production based on new inquiries about language and the nature of art, but to do it from a solid disciplinal training, building first in the student a blueprint of the thought process that gathers the resources, the protocols, and the crucial tools of art, in order to question, from there and only from there, the disciplinary structures, and to implement the necessary interdisciplinary, trans-disciplinary and transcultural perspectives that knowledge demands today.

The ITAE has positioned itself as an institution of great performance within the setting of higher education in Ecuador. The quality of its research, training and community outreach processes attest to this. When faced with the question of whether it is possible to teach art…there is not just one answer!

Saidel Brito
Centro Cívico, September 26, 2014


[1] La Artefactoría was an artist collective that appeared in Guayaquil in 1982. They are considered pioneers of contemporary art in Ecuador. The group disbanded in 1989 with the exhibition Caníbal that took place at the Museo Municipal de Guayaquil.